A new Danish cohort study reveals that psychological illnesses in parents are significantly linked to their children attempting suicide and engaging in offending or violent behavior after the age of fifteen.
According to the lead author of the study, Pearl Mok, PhD, University of Manchester (UK), “Children of parents with a history of psychiatric disease and substance use may be at heightened risk of additionally experiencing other adversities, such as maladaptive parenting styles, abuse, neglect, and financial hardship. Shared genetic vulnerability to psychiatric disorders and impulsive-aggressive traits may also contribute partly to the links.”
Dr. Mok added that steps to improve parental relationships and skills along with family therapy may prove to be of use in such cases. The current findings were published in JAMA Psychiatry.
The participants of the study were people born in Denmark to Danish parents during 1967 to 1997. All of the selected participants were ones who had been living in the country when they were fifteen years old. Almost half of the 1,743,525 participants included in the cohort were female. All of the participants were followed, for the study, from their fifteenth birthday until 2012 or the occurrence of a negative outcome, depending on what happened first.
The results showed that an initial attempt at suicide was made by a total of 2.6% of the participants (44,472 cohort members). A first violence offense was committed by 3.2% of the total participants (55,404). As far as the median age is concerned, it was 20.6 for first violence offense conviction while it was 21.6 for first suicide attempt.
The metal illness history of the parents of the participants in the cohort was provided by the Psychiatric Central Register. The risks of suicide attempt and violent behavior was increased in offspring of parents who had a psychiatric disease. It was stronger in offspring if a single or both parents were diagnosed with extreme cannabis misuse, antisocial disorder, or had attempted suicide themselves.
A comparison showed that incidence ratios were highest if parents were diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (suicide attempt was 3.96 while violent offending was 3.62), misuse of cannabis (offspring suicide attempt being 3.57, violent offending being 4.05) and parental suicide attempt (3.42 being suicide attempt by offspring while violent offending was 3.31).
The researchers also noted that a modest increase in risk was observed with regards to parental mood disorders, namely bipolar disorder. However, no elevated risk in violence was seen in individuals whose parents had Alzheimer disease.
Individuals were twice as likely to show negative behavior if both parents had been diagnosed with a psychological illness compared to only one the parents. Dr. Mok also stressed the fact that all of the parental mental disorder cases in the study were serious enough to have required secondary care treatment. She was also quick to note that the results of the study doesn’t say that parents using cannabis gives rise to increased risk of suicide attempt or violent behavior from their offspring. The results of the study only apply to extreme cannabis use.
It has been recommended by the authors of the study that physicians treating adults with mental illnesses should also evaluate the psychological needs of their patient’s offspring. They should also intervene if the child is at risk for violence or suicide.
While the results of this study are commendable more research is required as other factors, such as psychological disorders in offspring, might also lead to elevated risks of such concerning behavior.